In January 2015 a retired police officer and U.S. air force veteran witnessed a flying object while traveling down a foggy nighttime road, as reported by UFO writer Roger Marsh. The witness stated he saw “Three white lights in a backward triangle, possibly a boomerang shape.” The object did not appear as any aircraft the witness was familiar with. The witness watched the slowly moving object until it sped up and vanished within the foggy night sky.
A retired police officer reported watching a low flying boomerang-shaped UFO that moved over Daubenberger Road in Turlock, CA, about 7 p.m. on January 24, 2015, according to testimony in Case 62855 from the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) witness reporting database. Credit: MUFON
Later that year Stephanie Wilkerson sat outside of her Pennsylvania home when she caught sight of a large circle of flashing lights in the night sky. “I thought it was a plane until I realized it wasn’t moving. I watched it for about 20 minutes and I started noticing it changing colors,” Wilkerson stated according to ABC news. Wilkerson contacted 911, a police officer was dispatched. This officer witnessed the lights as well.
And from 2014 to late March of 2015, Navy pilots and ground and ship radar support documented what the military calls unexplained aerial phenomena. F/A Super Hornet pilot Lt. Ryan Graves and four other Navy pilots part of his squadron performing maneuvers between aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia encountered multiple objects performing extraordinary physics-defying aerobatics at hypersonic speeds.
Encounters with unknown aerial phenomenon are not unique to the 21st century, in fact such accounts date all the way into antiquity. One purported event involved Alexander the Great during a campaign in Tyre, which is in modern-day Lebanon. As reported in the books Stranger Than Science by Frank Edwards, and UFOs in Wartime by Mack Maloney, Alexander’s forces saw and, depending on what account you believe, were either harassed or helped by fiery “flying shields” that came from the sky. Historical accounts of the event are dubious, but when comparing Alexander’s encounter to modern reports there is one obvious difference: technology. Have UFO encounters increased in the 21st Century, or do we simply have better means of recording such encounters? Furthermore, should we take sightings accompanied by footage and photos at face-value, or open the door to deeper scrutiny?
Since the term UFO first came into existence, researchers and investigators have been trying to obtain conclusive evidence for this elusive phenomenon. According to the Executive Director of MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) Jan Harzan, the objective remains clear, “The goal is to find hard evidence for the existence of UFOs whether that be metal fragments, landing pad marks, conclusive photographic evidence, or some other hard evidence.” With a background in nuclear engineering, Harzan worked for IBM for 37 years and was key in creating MUFON’s Case Management System used for reporting, tracking and investigating UFOs. MUFON is the largest civilian UFO investigation organization in the world. Optical physicist and UFO researcher Dr. Bruce Maccabee also emphasizes the need for hard evidence, “There must be testimony that can be investigated as well as any "hard evidence" that is part of the sighting (photo. video, landing traces, other effects); interviews of witnesses must produce a consistent history of the sighting.” Dr. Maccabee began his research into UFOs in the late 1960s, having conducted countless investigations into some of the most well-known UFO events for nearly fifty years and is without question one of the world’s leading authorities on UFOs.
As with any analysis that takes place after an incident in question, UFO investigators must utilize a wide variety of techniques and methods to best formulate a hypothesis. According to private investigator and UFO researcher Chase Kloetzke, it is imperative to remember to remain investigators first and foremost. “With so much more in our skies that is man-made but can appear unusual, it’s more difficult to identify known objects. The known objects make up about 95-98% of all witness reports.” Kloetzke is a MUFON field investigator/Star Team member and the former Director of Investigations for MUFON. Kloetzke describes how the integrity of evidence must be held to the highest standard, similar to robbery or homicide investigations, “The evidence collection is done with forensic rules and controls. We follow all Institute of Justice policies and guidelines.”
Kloetzke’s views on investigative high standards mirror that of UFO/close encounter researcher and anomalist Christopher Chacon, “It is essential that all information surrounding the witnesses and the encounter be properly collected under the strictest of controls, with the widest ranging scope as possible, even if some data might not seem relevant. Of the various categories and types of encounters reported, while the majority of general witnessed reports investigated were determined to be explainable (circumstantial, environmental, psychological and even physiological), it is still imperative to maintain an objective impartial approach when collecting and assessing all information, being mindful not to rush to conclusions.” Part of Chacon’s intensive investigative background is the result of his many years with a private scientific think tank. With an incomparable array of technology, resources and logistical support at his disposal, Chacon has been investigating UFO reports and close encounters around the world for nearly forty years and continues to do so, confidentially working with all manner of clients.
While views toward the possibility of UFOs and extraterrestrials continues to change, not so much the actual encounters themselves, according to Chacon. “For the most part the preponderance of actual experiences have not changed all that much, with the majority of encounters over the course of the last 70 years possessing many of the same intrinsic qualities, further supporting the validity of the experiences as a whole.” Harzan also confirms that UFO reports over the years “remain the same. We still get lights in the sky and daylight discs being reported.” Among the critical task of researchers, investigators and UFO groups like MUFON is in determining how to best investigate UFO reports, especially when they are of an extreme nature. When evaluating UFO encounters, the degree of strangeness or peculiarity is a key feature and a deep-dive into the literature will reveal many cases that fall into the far end of the spectrum and boggle the mind. To properly deal with these extreme cases, in addition to the traditional methods, Chacon utilizes a variety of innovative methods and approaches, “Of those encounters that involve highly extraordinary characteristics, an appropriate assessment can often require analysis that goes above and beyond what is typically conducted, sometimes analyzing every possibility imaginable, as well as thinking outside the box. The conclusions or lack thereof can still often defy our present understanding of the laws of nature and physics.” According to the late nuclear physicist and UFO researcher Stanton Friedman, these highly extraordinary encounters demand a more in-depth analysis, “While These extreme physical trace cases and abduction cases and radar cases give far more evidence than others, they can also be the most challenging in trying to scientifically analyze.” After working for fourteen years for some of the most prominent companies exploring the applications of next-generation nuclear technology, Friedman left in 1970 to pursue full-time the scientific investigation of UFOs and was one of the key researchers behind the investigation of the Roswell Incident. Since then he had published countless papers and given hundreds of lectures on UFOs across the U.S. and around the world. He recently passed away on May 13th, 2019, on his way home after having just completed giving one of his lectures.
As reported by the New York Times in 2017, recent studies in the U.S. suggest that people are becoming more open to the existence of UFOs and other paranormal phenomena as religiosity decreases. According to Pew Research, absolute certainty in God’s existence dropped from 71 to 63 percent amongst Americans. Research shows Americans who are irreligious or lack belief in God are about two times more likely to believe in UFOs. A 2018 poll conducted by Chapman University states 41% of Americans believe extraterrestrials have visited earth in the past, and 35% believed we’ve been visited in modern times. To better gauge the ever-growing sentiment, an in-depth 2018 Marist Poll, revealed that 68% of Americans believe there is intelligent life on other planets, an increase of 52% from 2005. However, the percentages globally are much greater and significantly more complicated, as belief systems in other countries and cultures are often interfused into one another and participation in accurate studies can be challenging. That said, studies do indicate a growing belief in UFO’s and extraterrestrial life globally. “The general public is looking for confirmation that these things are real”, confirms Harzan. The diligence of UFO investigators and the revelations that occur from government disclosures and even depictions in the media reveal that UFOs never quite go away, it is only the perception of them that changes.
This changing of the guard can only bode well for the future of Ufology, yet despite advances in technology and openness to the UFO phenomenon, the laborious task of collecting, analyzing, and reporting encounters in an objective manner remains the same as stated by Harzan, “Well certainly equipment has improved. A quantum leap in measuring equipment as well as new tools like Night-Vision goggles and GPS to name a few, but the mission and processes for investigation remain the same.” As UFO researcher Peter Davenport notes “In many respects, the job of a UFO investigator is still the same today as it was 70 years ago. The investigator still has to contact the witness, he or she still has to conduct an on-site interview, and the collected data has to be analyzed, and then presented in a formal report.” Davenport has been the Director of the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) since 1994 and has investigated some of the most compelling cases in North America since 1965. The top luminaries in Ufology agree that even with the incredible advances in technology to aid in investigations, the process and methods involved with collecting eyewitness interviews and testimony remain crucial, as emphasized by Dr. Maccabee, “A good sighting, with or without photo/video must have a convincing testimonial report consistent within itself and consistent with any photos or video.”
A mere cursory glance through government documents regarding UFOs reveals there are rational explanations for many encounters, though whether these rational explanations are feasible still remain up to the reader/investigator. This means not even explained encounters should be discounted outright. Especially since despite stating the opposite for years, the government recently admitted they did indeed investigate UFOs. Furthermore, over 700 reports within the government’s Project Bluebook remain officially unexplained. Witnesses of UFOs and “little green men” were once the punchline of jokes, but a simple Google search on “UFO beliefs” shows a stunning amount of recent think pieces arguing it’s time for the public to take the matter seriously.
Despite continued encounters and the views of many Ufologists, some researchers feel that there’s been a significant decline in the more extraordinary type of UFO encounters. “It seems that the sightings are not as robust as they used to be,” Ufologist Kevin Randle considers the many reports over decades, back to the 1950’s. “We had sightings with movie footage, EM effects, occupant reports and multiple witnesses. UFOs were coming close to the ground, landing, and leaving traces behind. There were sightings with the attempted intercepts by jet fighters. Today, with all the technology available, we just don't have those sorts of sightings in the same numbers we had before. Too few sightings with anything other than witness testimony today.” Randle has authored more than 80 books, many on UFOs, with his works on the Roswell Incident regarded among the most influential. In addition to being a retired lieutenant colonel, having served in the U.S. Army and Air Force, he is also a professional science fiction novelist/writer.
It was during war and post-wartime in the 20th Century that UFOs became a cultural phenomenon. During World War II various pilots reported encounters with “Foo Fighters” -- unknown flying aircraft. Allied forces believed the craft were German or Japanese, while the Axis thought they belonged to the Allies. In 1947, two years after the end of WWII, UFO sightings seemed to surge. According to Friedman, 1947 is the year private aviator Kenneth Arnold had a stunning sighting of nine unknown flying objects while in flight near Mount Rainier in Seattle. Following this sighting, Friedman adds, another thousand sightings were reported later that summer that further propelled the UFO phenomenon into the forefront of public awareness, including “multiple witness radar visual cases, physical trace cases, abduction cases and serious investigation with much government data being withheld.”
According to optical physicist and UFO researcher Dr. Bruce Maccabee, these reports and cases were initially taken very seriously. But once the government and scientific community dismissed the reports claiming they were not real “the press began to disparage the reports and treat them as entertainment. However, the Air Force did treat seriously the reports by pilots but did not tell the general population of their concern. Nowadays there’s still a ‘giggle factor’ associated with UFO reports, but it is not as ‘giggly.’” Dr. Maccabee began his research into UFOs in the late 1960s, having conducted countless investigations into some of the most well-known UFO events for nearly fifty years and is without question one of the world’s leading authorities on the UFO phenomenon.
Dr. Maccabee, Harzan, Davenport, Randle, Friedman, Chacon and Kloetzke all agree that technological advancements since the 1950s to the present, like the Internet and high definition photography and video, directly tie to the better reporting and educating of UFOs. While UFO reports to MUFON and NUFORC (the two leading UFO reporting organizations in the world) have been on the decline for several years, this does not necessarily mean that fewer encounters are taking place. On the contrary, both UFO researchers as well as social psychologists have theorized a myriad of possible explanations for the perceived decline in reports. Two of these are the control and suppression of reports and witnesses/experiencers and various types of psychosociological phenomena that could be responsible in changing cultures. For the first, Davenport has suggested the possibility that UFO reports are being intercepted and suppressed, whether that is by one or more governments or private interests and the agenda behind such control is yet unknown. For the latter, Chacon mirrors the views of social psychologists describing several phenomena, similar to the bystander effect, that would impede an experiencer or witness from acting, “Depending on the types of experiences, who is affected and the country of origin, people can have highly varied emotional responses, taking into consideration belief systems, cultural and socio-economic factors. Some emotions of experiencers, more specifically, emotional distress, shame/guilt, anxiety and fear to name a few, can directly influence whether or not they will report an encounter. Emotions can influence the behavior of witnesses and experiencers — and can also affect the actions of other people around them. I’ve dealt with countless situations where reluctant witnesses/experiencers were only discovered because of the investigation process, many still choosing to be uncooperative”
As cultures and technologies change, can we reasonably conclude what the future of UFO reporting, investigation, and research holds? If recent developments are anything to go by, it appears the field will continue to balloon until it either becomes mainstream or reaches a point of disclosure. Davenport describes a global shift in attitude that is now open to the possibility that, ”our planet may be being visited by representatives of other civilizations in our galaxy. A broader acceptance of that issue can only lead to a stronger inducement in witnesses to record incidents they’ve observed, but for which they have no adequate explanation.” Similarly, Chacon observes, “Due to changing sociological and cultural views over the years and the affects that social media and technology has had, it seems that there is now a much greater global population that is quicker than ever to either dismiss or to believe in reports before all relevant evidence has been considered. Taking this observation into account, there are also many UFO researchers that seem to have revised their views as well.” Randle notes, “People are more sophisticated than they were. They are more familiar with the world around them and what they can expect to see in the sky. Many UFO investigators have changed their perspective, their bias, from believing all they are told to checking it out. The Internet has been a significant help in running down data that are relevant to an investigation and I think many investigators realize that sometimes people just want to see their names in the news.”
In American Cosmic, a 2019 book by philosophy Professor D.W. Pasulka, the changes in UFO research and one interpretation of beliefs are greatly detailed. In the book, Pasulka details her research alongside noted astronomer and computer scientist Jacques Vallée, as well as biotech mogul “Tyler” who claims ideas for his 40 biotech patents were given by non-human intelligence. Pasulka’s book presents the argument that the growing “religion” of UFO-dom can be thought of as a “religion of technology”.
As with many controversial topics and events throughout history, there are those who interpret and react in an extreme and fanatic manner at both ends of the spectrum. Just as with the cult of conspiracy theorists that still believe to this day that the moon landings were a hoax, it should not be a surprise to anyone that the dramatic stories surrounding the many UFO incidents and close encounter events would have produced extreme followings. According to people like Pasulka, one only need to look at UFO cults like Heaven’s Gate, or religions like the Raelians, or even the Space Brother phenomenon of the 60s to see that UFOs and the effects of such a possibility has caused profound deep-rooted cultural aberrations. As Arthur C. Clarke once stated “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Unfortunately, conflating these rare extremes with the UFO/extraterrestrial topic as a whole gives them less credence among those who are still on the fence for believing.
Whether skeptic, believer or on the fence, UFO encounters continue to be reported. Within the last couple years several high profile UFO encounters were documented by dozens of witnesses that included state authorities, government and military officials. Among these encounters included an event on October 25th, 2017 in the busy airspace above northern California and Oregon that involved several private and passenger planes, as well as air traffic control centers and two F-15s that were scrambled from Portland; and an encounter on February 24th, 2018 in the skies above Arizona, that involved an American Airlines and Phoenix Air passenger jets at 30,000 feet. In both cases, all manner of rational explanations were ruled-out, including drones, military aircraft, weather balloons and natural phenomena. With these and other recent compelling encounters and with the ongoing efforts of UFO researchers and organizations, people around the world are embracing the possibilities of UFOs and extraterrestrial life more than ever. And with more people than ever looking to the skies documenting UFO events, up-and-coming generations have also begun to ask the same provocative questions that previous generations have asked.
Perhaps this is why 50 years after the official closure of Project Bluebook, authorities have finally admitted another secret program existed. In 2017 the existence of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) became public. The program was started by former U.S. Senator Harry Reid in 2007, allocating up to $22 million until its closure in 2012. The exact reasoning for the program’s discontinuance and its public disclosure has not been confirmed.
For Ufologists and UFO researchers, another secret program is not a huge revelation. Dr. Maccabee, Friedman, Davenport, Randle, Harzan, Chacon and Kloetzke all voiced similar acknowledgements and sentiments toward the disclosure. “It is something that didn’t surprise Ufologists, we’ve known this for at least 2 decades. Today, we are not called crazy or conspiracy theorists when these programs are discussed. It also has provided a dose of legitimacy,” Kloetzke stated. According to Kevin Randle, the revelation of the program is just another example of authorities lying to the public. “I have known there was a secret project to collect data for years. When Project Blue Book closed, we learned that Project Moon Dust, which had a UFO component, lasted until 1986 when the code name was compromised. We learned that the code name had been changed and that the investigation continued from that point. To learn the latest project to recover data is not surprising, given the history of distortion that has been fed into the public arena for decades.” Harzan feels that the disclosure of such a program is actually a public disclosure and acknowledgment that UFOs are real, “The fact that after 70 years of denial the Pentagon finally admitted it has been studying the UFO Phenomenon and had a classified program to determine what they are, and how they work, screamed from the rooftop of the Pentagon that “UFOS ARE REAL.” Harzan goes onto say, “Bottom line, I think the floodgates have been opened and it is now safe for scientists and engineers to study this phenomenon and do so without fear of ridicule and losing their job.”
Not all researchers see the reveal of AATIPs existence as a net positive or same-old-story within the field, however. As Davenport notes: “I am not yet convinced that all the recent breakthroughs will lead to anything significant in the field of UFO research. The U. S. government still controls the data that it certainly has collected over the past 72 years, and probably longer than that and government officials who are in the know about the UFO phenomenon have had abundant opportunity to share that information with the American People, had they been predisposed to do so. I find that their implacable propensity to “shield” all of us from what the government knows is even more worrisome to me than the apparent presence on our planet of alien spacecraft, and their presumed occupants.”
With both privately and publicly funded attempts to investigate UFO phenomenon continue to gain support perhaps the UFO field will reach a “Horse Shoe” compromise. Stanton Friedman is hopeful, stating “I hope much more data will be released by governments around the world. Analysis of alien wreckage and bodies for example. There have been over a dozen Ph.D. theses, room for plenty more.” Dr. Maccabee is cautiously optimistic: “I expect more of the same - slow acceptance that something strange, possibly associated with non-human intelligence is, and has, been happening. Of course, slow could change to fast if the government makes positive statements, but I'm not holding my breath.” Kloetzke feels that more disclosure is coming, “We will see more “ownership” of what some of these programs can offer and why their existence continues with major funding even after decades of perceived failure or their method has provided no there, there.” Harzan goes even further, “I see more scientists, engineers, psychologists and other professional people getting involved in UFO research on the technology side as well as the human side of things.”
Perhaps in a few more decades, full disclosure will finally find its way into public space and the world as a whole. Harzan envisions this and a scientific, technological revolution of sorts, “It’s going to be an exciting next 100 years for all of us, and I do mean all of us, because there will be breakthroughs in interstellar travel, including human bases on far off planets; breakthroughs in human physiology and human life extension; as well as communications breakthroughs never imagined. I see a golden age ahead of us and much of it will come from the study of UFOs and the wonder and technology they have been showing us since the beginning of mankind.” Or, at the very least, we will live Peter Davenport’s take: “My dream is that in the future, a person will be able to sit in his living room and watch any UFO flyovers on a computer monitor, in the same manner, that I presume personnel at the U. S. Space Command and the U. S. Naval Space Surveillance system do today.” Until then, we can only follow closely the works of dedicated researchers and investigators and see where perception takes us.
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